Last Saturday, the house was packed during the Squire Park Neighborhood Council Meeting. This neighborhood took a stand against structural racism by withdrawing their support of the new youth jail. A $210 million project by King County to expand the current youth detention facility by adding twice as many beds and beautifying the overall appearance of the facility. Community members of Squire Park urged King County to stop the process of building the youth jail until the County conducts a racial and economic impact assessment with true community input.
With the discussion around the expansion of the King County’s youth jail starting to heat up we have been asking ourselves some big questions around the issue:
- What really is the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC)?
- How does the School-to-Prison-Pipeline work? And in which ways does the School-to-Prison-Pipeline feed into the PIC?
- How do I personally contribute and/or benefit from the PIC? How do these two phenomena affect my communities?
- Do they disproportionately affect communities of color?
- How about the youth? As a county, have we thoroughly considered alternatives to locking youth up?
Let’s examine a few facts around youth detention in King County:
Crime is down in King County. Also, the population in our current jail has been in decline for the last few years.
- King County has been reducing the use of the jail for youth: the average daily population was 191 in 1998; in 2012 it was only 70. The population of the jail has decreased by over 50%.
Studies have found that incarcerating youth does not reduce crime.
- The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that in 2012, only 14% of youth held in secure confinement across the country were held for violent offenses.
- According to the Justice Policy Institutes 2006 policy brief, The Dangers of Detention, jailing youth has little to no relationship with reductions in crime in the community, increases recidivism (instead of reducing it), pulls youth deeper into the system, causes additional harm to youth with special needs or experiencing mental illness, and greatly reduces youth success in the labor market.
Current policies disproportionately affect youth of color.
- In 2012, a total of 1,320 young people were held in secure detention at the youth jail at 12th and Alder, 39.55% (522) of whom were African American, even though African Americans made up only 9.8% of the 2011 total youth population in King County; Native Americans comprised 2.5% (33) of those detained, though they made up only 1.1% of the 2011 youth population in the County.
- Black youth were jailed two times as often as white youth, even though white youth outnumber black youth in King County 7:1.
While Powerful Voices realizes that the current youth jail facility needs to renovated, our staff support the No New Youth Jail Campaign’s mission for King County to conduct a racial equity impact assessment with input and accountability to the communities that will be most affected. Also, considering Powerful Voice’s own history of working within the current youth jail we are in support of thoroughly examining alternatives with a focus on prevention over detention. We believe that the $210 million allocated for construction of the new youth jail could be invested (with more impact) on a modest upgrade of the current facility and community-based prevention/intervention programs and services. We believe that youth should not have to enter the Juvenile Justice system to have access to these services.
We are curious to hear what you think.